Health Benefits

Wine, Health and Moderation

“Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance.” – Benjamin Franklin

Moderate wine consumption has been enjoyed for centuries by many different cultures. Americans have only recently discovered the possible health benefits though. The first widely publicized breakthrough was the 1991 “60 Minutes” episode, “The French Paradox.”

How could the French, who eat diets high in fat have significantly less heart disease, the show asked?

Could it be wine? Yes, seems to be the prevailing thought.

The latest studies show that white and red wine provide the same heart healthy benefits. Remember, to enjoy all the benefits listed below, moderate consumption of wine (glass or two a day) is what is recommended by health professionals. Here are some of the latest findings regarding wine consumption and its health benefits.

Longevity

The National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism funded a study showing that moderate drinking white males have a 3 to 4 percent longer lifespan than non drinkers and heavy drinkers. This was the largest study ever conducted by the U.S. government. (Coate, D. American Journal of Public Health, 1993;83:888-890.)

In England, during a 13 year study of 12,000 British doctors, those who drank moderately had fewer deaths not only from heart disease, but from all other forms of death, including cancer, than abstainers or heavy drinkers. (From a study by Sir Richard Doll and Professor Richard Peto, Imperial Cancer Research Fund, Oxford University. Published in British Medical Journal, 1994; 309:911-918.)

Reduced Risk Of Heart Disease

In a study of more than 51,000 men, those who consumed from 1/2 to 2 drinks per day reduced their risk of heart disease by 26% compared with men who abstain from alcohol. Unbelievably, non-drinkers have the same level of death from heart disease as heavy drinkers. Moderate drinkers have about half this level. (Rimm, E. et al. The Lancet 1991;338:464-468.)

Several researchers have suggested that the apparent health benefits of wine ingested at mealtime may be due to the ability of alcohol and other phenolic compounds in wine to counter adverse effects of fatty foods during the critical digestive phase. Renaud has written of the positive effect of wine during meals on platelet aggregation, finding that wine “consumed with meals is absorbed more slowly, and thus has a prolonged effect on blood platelets at a time when they are under the influence of alimentary lipids known to increase their reactivity.”

An Israeli study by Fuhrman et al, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, found that drinking red wine with meals resulted in a 20% reduction in the LDL (“bad”) cholesterol oxidation. A Dutch study, published in the British Medical Journal, found that alcohol consumed with a meal may prevent blood clotting triggered by fat.

Cholesterol Fighter

Antioxidants in wine are absorbed immediately into the bloodstream at levels great enough to put the breaks on “LDL.” LDL is the “bad” cholesterol that can contribute to the build-up of plaque along arterial walls. (University of California at Davis. The Lancet, 1993;341:454-457.)

Moderate Consumption May Reduce Dementia Risk

NEW YORK (Reuters Health) – Moderate drinking may reduce an older person’s risk of
developing dementia, a new study suggests. Researchers in the Netherlands found that among the 5,400 older adults they studied, those who had up to three drinks a day were less likely than non-drinkers to develop any type of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease. And it did not matter whether the alcohol was wine, beer, liquor, or a fortified wine such as sherry. However, the relatively few who said they had four or more drinks in a day saw no such protective effect.

Anticarcinogens

A compound in wine called quercetin may help prevent certain cancers. Quercetin has been shown to block the ability of the human cancer gene (HRAS) to convert normal cells to cancer cells. It is one of nature’s most potent anticarcinogens. (University of California at Berkeley. Researcher: Terrance Leighton, M.D., Professor of Biochemistry, Presentation ACS -not published.)

Kidney Stones

A study from Harvard University researcher Gary Curhan and colleagues, using more than 81,000 women participants drawn from the Nurses’ Health Study, found that an increase in fluid intake significantly reduces risk for kidney stones and that risk reduction was greatest for wine compared with other beverages. Out of 17 beverages, including tea, coffee, fruit juices, milk and water, wine was associated with the highest reduction in risk – 59%.

Researchers noted: “Intakes of caffeinated and decaffeinated coffee, tea and wine were associated with decreased risk.” Curhan and colleagues reported similar results for men and kidney stones in 1996. Wine consumption was associated with highest risk reduction – 39%.

Moderate Drinking Lowers Risk of Diabetes

NEW YORK, Jan 06, 2000 (Reuters Health) — Men who are ‘moderate’ drinkers — between 5 to 10 drinks per week — have a lower risk for adult-onset diabetes than either abstainers or heavy drinkers, researchers report. “Men with a high alcohol intake may be able to reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes if they drink less,” report Dr. Ming Wei and colleagues at the Cooper Institute in Dallas, Texas.

As reported previously by Reuters Health, numerous studies have suggested that having a drink or two per day appears to have a protective effect against cardiovascular disease. In their study, Wei’s team examined rates of type 2 diabetes — the adult-onset form of the disease affecting 95% of all diabetics — in over 8,600 Texan men. They found that diabetes risks were lowest in men who drank between 5 and 10 drinks per week, compared with either abstainers/infrequent drinkers (0 to 5 drinks per week) or heavy drinkers (10 to 22 drinks or above). In fact, infrequent or heavy drinkers faced twice the risk of type 2 diabetes of moderate drinkers!

Wei told Reuters Health that, according to previous studies, moderate drinking “reduces insulin resistance,” while heavy alcohol consumption “increases insulin resistance.” Insulin resistance — in which the body gradually stops responding to the sugar hoarding effect of the hormone insulin — is thought to precede full-blown type 2 diabetes. Based on their findings, the authors estimate that “24% of the incident cases of diabetes in (adult men) might be attributable to high alcohol intake.” While they do not recommend that abstainers take up drinking to lower their diabetes risk, they do urge that heavy drinkers cut back in order to lower their risk. SOURCE: Diabetes Care 2000;23:18-22

Even the Common Cold!

The American Journal of Public Health reports that in a year-long study of more than 400 men and women, nonsmokers who drank up to three drinks per day were more resistant to five strains of common cold than nondrinkers. (Cohen S, et al. American Journal of Public Health, 993;83:1277-1283.)

Conclusion

These studies are starting to gain wide acceptance within the medical community. Moderate drinking is proving to have positive health benefits. Dr. Harvey E. Finkel, Clinical Professor of Medicine at Boston University Medical Center and Director of Oncology/Hematology Unit at Deaconess Waltham Hospital, predicts that moderate wine consumption will be part of a healthy program supported by doctors. He states, “…there are some patients who should never drink, and nobody should ever drink too much, but for most of us, a glass of wine at dinner offers proven health benefits.”